Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Nestlé manipulation in the spotlight: celebrities, spying and re-writing its own Wikipedia page

We launched a new briefing paper on Nestlé last week in Zurich, alongside campaigners concerned ab out Nestlé's trade union busting activities in Colombia and spying in Switzerland. You can download it from our press release about the event at:

The spying case relates to Nestlé hiring someone through the Securitas company to pass themselves of as an activist to infiltrate Attac Switzerland, which was preparing a book on Nestlé malpractice. The spy passed information to a former MI6 officer working for Nestlé. The foreward to the Attac book was written by Susan George, who commented last year:

---Statement from Susan George

I had the honour of writing the preface to the book Attac contre l’Empire Nestlé, and as such I would like to provide the following statement as I am unable to attend the press conference on June 13.

From the time I began following Nestlé’s activities in the 1970s, I have known it as a corporation that does not take criticism and will go to any length to force its point of view and, whenever possible, cover up unfavourable findings. I am not familiar with the applicable Swiss law in this case, but I do know that Switzerland is a democratic country and that this time, Nestlé has gone too far. If the espionage carried out by Nestlé against members of Attac Vaud, including violations of their homes and private lives, is considered “legal,” then no one is safe any longer. If Nestlé can infiltrate citizens’ groups with impunity and monitor their activities that are entirely licit and non-violent, as if it were a State infiltrating a terrorist cell, then social scientists will no longer have the right to work, journalists will no longer be able to carry out investigations in the way the courageous Temps Présent team did. No one will be allowed to criticize transnational corporations or defend human, labour and environmental rights. If such espionage is “legal,” then citizens can no longer act freely, and a new type of soft corporatist fascism also becomes “legal,” put in place not by a government or a political movement but by transnational corporations using private police, that feel they can get away with anything because of their economic power.

As the writer of the preface to Attac Vaud’s book Attac Contre L’Empire Nestlé, I imagine I was spied on just like my colleagues. Consequently, I ask to be to associated with any judicial and/or other action that Attac Vaud and Attac Switzerland may decide to undertake against Nestlé, and I express my full solidarity with them at this difficult time, as well as with the Temps Présent team. I am also certain that the Swiss people will judge the abject behaviour of Nestlé appropriately.

Susan George
Author, honorary president of Attac France

---statement ends

The spying case was one of those in a vote organised by the Berne Declaration, known as the Public Eye Awards, to coincide with the World Economic Forum. You can find full details of the nomination at:

Nestlé did not win on this occasion, though it was an overwhelming winner of a past public vote on corporate malpractice when we nominated it. Here's the nomination document (in English) on the German page for the award:

And there is this graph, which shows how overwhelming was Nestlé's victory and its shame:

"Many people from all over the world voted on the “Public Eye” website for the most blatant case of corporate irresponsibility. The clear winner and thus laureate of the Public’s Award is Nestlé. The Swiss food and beverages company is criticised for labour conflicts in Colombia and for its aggressive marketing methods for baby food, which jeopardize breastfeeding."

While we work to expose Nestlé malpractice, the company has staff trying to cover it up. The misleading and recruiting of George Clooney to relay the company's claims is one example. The spying is another.

A third comes from analysis of the Wikipedia website. This has entries on different subjects which anyone can edit. Editing wars can sometimes result, particularly on contentious topics.

Now there is a site that tracks who is doing the editing and this has detected how Nestlé has removed contentious entries from pages relating to the company. This has found what it describes as possible 'conflict of interest' edits on the following issues:

  • Cricisism of Nestlé’s business practices,
  • Baby milk marketing,
  • Legal action against Ethiopian government,
  • Genetically modified organisms,
  • Nestlé Purina in Venezuela.
You can run the search yourself on the Wikiscanner website:

Having attended the Nestlé shareholder meeting and heard the shareholders hissing and booing whenever a speaker raised concerns about Nestlé practices, I can well believe that investors think the management is doing a good job with its aggressive practices and protecting its financial interests by using celebrities for two-step communication, spying and re-writing history. Profit comes before all else for them.

So perhaps we should not be surprised to see as Susan George says, that Nestlé, "will go to any length to force its point of view and, whenever possible, cover up unfavourable findings."

Part of our role is to help others understand this. The Nestlé Critics website is a resource to help with this and contributions from experts on different aspects of Nestlé malpractice are welcome.

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